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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Martian Rivers & Lakes

Martian Rivers & Lakes

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, September 16, 2016/Categories: natural history, photography, space science, environment

                       Martian Lakes and River Beds in Arabia Terra Region, Mars (credit: JPL)

Mars turns out to have been warmer and wetter for a longer period of time than expected. New imagery from the HiRise camera on NASA's Mars Reconaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows the presence of paleolakes and rivers existed on the now-dry planet far longer than thought.

Publishing in the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR), collaborators at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and elsewhere show the newly discovered lakes and streams were present a billion years after a well-documented, earlier era of wet conditions had existed on ancient Mars.

Sharon Wilson, one of the lead researchers said:

"One of the lakes in this region was comparable in volume to Lake Tahoe in California that holds about 45 cubic miles of water. This particular lake was fed by an inlet valley on its southern edge and overflowed along its northern margin, carrying water downstream into a very large, water-filled basin on Mars, nicknamed 'Heart Lake'. We calculate Heart Lake held about 670 cubic miles of water holding more water than in Lake Ontario of the Great Lakes. The chain of lakes and valleys that are part of a valley system that extends about 90 miles."


                   Martian Rivers (blue) & Lakes (black) with Outflow Streams and Channels (credit: JPL)

The time period for the Maritan rivers and lakes was determined by using age estimates for impact craters and whether or not the valleys carved into the debris ejected from the impacts, was an indicator if the valleys were older or younger than the craters. The conclusion was that this wet period occurred 2-3 billion years ago, long after most of Mars original atmosphere was thought to have been lost.

These new results offer great insight into the climate history on Mars and suggest longer conditions that may have been suitable for life. Lakes and rivers are excellent environments for life to evolve on Earth so what about Mars? The question is how these moderate temperatures existed for all this liquid water hundreds of millions of years after Mars became cold and dry.

"Sniffer-bots" designed and equipped to test for past or present biology should be sent to analyze for more than just amazing geology on Mars.



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